Review: John Wick (2014)

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Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen

Directors: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

Writer: Derek Kolstad

 

Interestingly enough, Director Chad Stahelski first started his career in Hollywood as a Stuntman. His first role being Keanu Reeves stunt double in the 1991 hit Point Break and eight years later working with Reeves again in The Matrix. This is his first foray into life as a Director and who better to star as his lead than the man that he has been several times during his career.

Reeves plays the title role of John Wick, an ex hitman who has retired after meeting and subsequently marrying the woman of his dreams, but the story starts on a sad note with the funeral of John Wick’s wife leading up to the inevitable grief that Wick struggles to deal with. One evening there is a knock at the door and a package is delivered to his house containing a small dog, a parting gift left by his wife to help him in his grieving process. One day, whilst filling up his Mustang at a petrol station, Wick gains the unwanted attention of some locals who enquire about purchasing the car from him which he informs them is not for sale. Later that evening, Wick’s house is broken into. He is beaten, his car is stolen and his dog is killed leaving him no choice but to come out of retirement to seek revenge. John Wick is known by a lot of people in the criminal underworld as a person that you don’t mess with and when crime lord Viggo Tarasov (Nyqvist) finds out that his son, Iosef (Pop Star Lilly Allen’s’ younger brother, Alfie) is the one responsible, he fears the worst and the worst is about to happen.

As far as Directorial debuts go, this is one of the best there has been. Chad Stahelski has honed and crafted a work of pure genius. The sombre mood of the piece is often played out in a dark contrast with the inclusion of blue/green colouring to give it an air of mystique. It is the ream of stunning visuals that bring out the cinematography of the movie painting a vivid backdrop for our lead to play against.

Reeves is one of the few actors with brooding intensity that he often doesn’t need to speak at all to create the impeccable role. He is perfect for this part and very believable as a man you wouldn’t want to mess with. Many stars pop up during the course of the movie such as Ian McShane, Willem Defoe and John Leguizamo. The storyline is one that has been played over and over before, but the beauty of Derek Kolstad’s script is that it has its own unique method to it. Chad Stahleski’s stunt experience plays heavily in the influence of the movie with very quick, well-choreographed fight scenes played out beautifully by the cast keeping the storyline fast paced.

This is also Kolstad’s first major screenplay and with the recent announcement of a sequel, the trio are looking to be reunited once again.

 

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Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

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Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

 

The LA emergency services received hundreds of call outs a day from armed robberies through to car accidents and public disturbance and for Louis Bloom there is a chance to exploit this and earn himself some money.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays dark well. Bordering on an older version of Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal takes on the role of small time thief, Bloom and his obsession to delve further and further into the world of video media.

We first meet Bloom and are soon introduced to his character and what he does best. Thieving. It is evident that this is how he makes a living and it isn’t until he pulls over at the scene of an accident on the highway that he meets Joe Loder (played by Bill Paxton) who is filming the scene as a woman is pulled from a burning car. Bloom questions Loder’s motives and Loder reveals to him that he drives around to the scenes of crimes or accidents, videos the footage and sells it to the highest bidding news network. When Bloom’s attempts at joining Loder’s team are rebuffed, he uses his abilities of common theft to fund a new career and is soon on the road with a second hand video camera and a police scanner.

Bloom’s inexperience is obvious in the beginning of his new career as he struggles to get the shots that will sell, but armed with enthusiasm Bloom manages to avoid police detection and uncover shots that would blossom his career. He meets Newsroom Director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo) and manages to sell his first video to her for $250. He tells Nina that she will see him again and continues in his persistence to uncover great scoops and video them for financial reward. Knowing that only the best shots can claim the highest price, Bloom’s determination turns to obsession and he starts to interfere with crash scenes purely for the purpose of the media. With his popularity soaring he employs an intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed) to navigate and wait with the vehicle while Bloom gets the shots he needs.

Second hand equipment soon turns to brand new as Bloom uses the money he earns to become better at what he does. The police scanner is top of the range, allowing him to arrive at the scene before any emergency service, his video equipment becomes top of the range and his battered car soon transforms to a sports car, allowing additional speed.

Soon, Bloom is able to turn the tables on Nina not only negotiating financially, but personally and emotionally in order to get what he wants and his obsession continues to deepen the further he gets himself involved.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is sinister and occasionally unnerving in the role of Louis Bloom. He plays on the intense character adaptation between intense scenes, but never giving too much away about who the real Louis Bloom is which is the beauty of the story written and directed by Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy). The focus is purely on Bloom’s obsession revealing very little about his personal life and his ability to intimidate people. Rene Russo supports the story extremely well as Nina Romina bringing with her a wealth of expertise and experience to the movie. Bill Paxton is rarely challenged in his role, but along with Russo, brings an amazing amount of experience. British actor, Riz Ahmed, joins the cast as Bloom’s intern, Rick. A man with a great amount of desperation for money, but shadowed by an often timid exterior. Ahmed pulls off a very strong, well acted performance alongside Gyllenhaal.

Dan Gilroy marks his directorial debut with a dark, chilling tale of obsession rounded off perfectly with exceptional acting performances and a well-crafted, detailed storyline allowing us an insight into the world of media. A reflection of life today, Nightcrawler depicts the society we live in where we are inquisitive about the misfortunes of others to the extreme where battles for financial rights will be fought just to earn the privilege to show this information to the public who may have no interest in it, but would choose to watch it purely for morbid curiosity.

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Review: Dumb & Dumber To (2014)

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Stars: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle

 

There was a sense of childlike excitement that washed through me when the first on-set pictures of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as Lloyd and Harry appeared on various social media websites. It was the first day of filming the sequel and the buzz surrounding the film began from there. A lot happens in twenty years. We all grow as people and although the actors have grown, the characters haven’t.

Lloyd is in a mental institution. He has been there for those twenty years since he discovered his one true love, Mary Swanson (or Samsonite as Harry still refers to her) was married. Every Wednesday Harry comes to visit his old pal, bringing him candy, changing his colostomy bag and man nappies. When Harry announces that he can no longer visit, Lloyd reveals that the whole thing was a joke that had lasted twenty years. Within the first five minutes we are right back in the comfort of our favourite, bumbling misfits.

Harry announces to Lloyd that he is very ill and needs a kidney transplant. He visits his parents to discover he is adopted and is given a postcard dated twenty years prior from old flame, Fraida Felcher (played brilliantly by Kathleen Turner). Harry and Lloyd go to visit Fraida and manage to find an address for Harry’s daughter and set out on a mission to track her down so Harry can ask for a kidney. Harry’s daughter, Fanny Felcher (yep!) lives with a wealthy inventor and his gold digging wife, but when they get to the house she is not at home and they discover she is to conduct a speech at a Science Award Ceremony on behalf of her adopted father. He later realises that she forgot to take an important package with her, so naturally our goofball heroes offer to take it for them. In true Farrelly Brothers style they meet many characters along the way and in typical fashion they get into more than a few scrapes as well.

Dumb and Dumber To plays like an homage to the original. The storylines are vaguely similar, the old jokes are still there, although delivered differently and there are a lot of new ones thrown in. Old cast members have even been invited back to the movie. Brady Bluhm who plays blind, bird loving Billy was actually tracked down via Facebook and invited to appear in the film which he duly accepted. Also, if you wait to the end credits another old favourite appears onscreen for a split second. There is a lot of reminiscence about this sequel and that’s what gives it its beauty. If you look passed the original and view this as a standalone movie then you will find it thoroughly entertaining and funny. Admittedly, there are a few far fetched scenes unnecessarily drawn out, but overall it is stupidly hilarious. If you choose to compare it to the original you will see the significant way in which it respects the first movie, like an anniversary or celebration. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels have eased back into their characters with such grace. The characters and the chemistry between the pair has not changed one bit. It is as if they have never been away. They are supported strongly by Kathleen Turner, The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden as the gold digging mother, Rob Riggle and Rachel Melvin as Harry’s daughter and even Bill Murray briefly as Harry’s new room mate (yes, it is him)

The Farrelly’s have produced an extremely witty script with some hilarious laugh out loud moments perfectly executed by our two lead actors. There are many of the traditional “gross-out” scenes that will leave you stewing and uncomfortable in your seat, but after all, this is what they do best.

Personally, this movie is as funny as the first and I admit to laughing along for the majority of it, even after the scenes had played out and I cannot remember the last time a movie has done that.

Dumb and Dumber is back and will hopefully reel in a new generation of fans.

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Review: Taken 3 (2014)

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Stars: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace

Everybody’s heroic – ex CIA father, Bryan Mills is back and this time he is the target.

Taken 3 continues the story so far in the third and final movie of the trilogy. Bryan’s relationship with ex-wife, Lenore is still healthy, but her relationship with her millionaire husband is not. Lenore takes the opportunity to visit Bryan frequently to talk with him and occasionally reminisce. Stuart discovers her visits with her ex-husband and takes the opportunity to call in on Bryan and ask him not to see her while he is still trying to work things out. Bryan agrees and the two shake hands and separate on good terms. Lenore then contacts Bryan and asks to speak to him. Bryan goes out for Bagels and when he returns to his apartment, Lenore’s lifeless body is left on his bed with her throat cut. The apartment is then surrounded by cops and Bryan is on the run.

Mills then has to use his “particular set of skills” to continue his evasion of the cops and uncover answers surrounding the identity of Lenore’s true murderer. Bryan is able to always be one step ahead of the law, but Detective Franck Dotzler, working on the case, is clever and soon hot on his heels.

Taken 3, or TAK3N as it was referred maybe should have the tagline “Taken: The Money and Run” for it seems the creation of this third movie was purely for financial gain. As a standalone movie it is acceptable. It has everything you would expect from a movie such as this with thrills, action and drama thrown in, but the marketing behind the movie signified that “It Ends Here” rounding up the trilogy, but there was a lot about the movie that didn’t piece together with the other two. The original cast were back with Neeson once again in fine form, but there was no real connection to the first and second movies. The character of Stuart, previously seen in the first movie, was portrayed by a different actor and was confusing to know if it was supposed to be her husband or a new partner conveniently with the same name.

The other downside to the movie was the reduction of the movie’s rating to 12A, presumably to appeal to a wider audience, hence improving the potential of increased earnings. It did take the violence away from the movie with a lot of the fight scenes cut back and the lack of blood in the movie anywhere following any gunshots.

Liam Neeson does what he does best once again with ease. He has made a name for himself as an, without disrespect, older action hero. Famke Janssen returns as ex-wife, Lenore, in a limited role without giving her opportunity to portray her “particular set of acting skills”, Maggie Grace also returns as Bryan’s daughter, Kim, with a different back story to the previous ones. Support in the third movie is strong. Dougray Scott plays the role of Lenore’s partner, Stuart and plays the role well, despite it being unclear as to his actual character’s previous existence in the trilogy. Forest Whitaker comes on board as Franck Dolzer in a solid, impressive performance which is what you come to expect from a man of his stature.

Sadly, it is a disappointing end to the trilogy that has done so well and made a lot of money. Even with the dialogue of the script paying tribute to the original movie, it does have all the action you come to expect from the first two movies, despite being watered down for a younger audience. With loose ends still not tied, or not made clear, it impresses purely as its own movie and not part of the successful trilogy.

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Review: The Imitation Game

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Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode

 

Mr. Turing, do you know how many people have died because of Enigma? Three. Whilst we’ve been having this conversation.”

 

It is remarkable to think that because of the actions of one man we are all here today. If it wasn’t for the brilliant mind of mathematician Alan Turing then Germany could have prevailed in the Second World War and the country we live in now could be a very different place. It was down to his actions that historians believe the war lasted two years shorter than it could have done and approximately 14 million lives were spared in the process. But the country he saved turned its back on him and did so for nearly seven decades until in 2013 when Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon for the way he was treated simply because of who he was and not what he did.

During the Second World War the British Government employed a team of expert mathematicians and problem solvers to try and decipher one of the greatest codes in World History used by the Germans, The Enigma Code. Coded messages would be sent giving detailed briefs and instructions for planned attacks on the British. Alan Turing applied for a role and, despite showing a great deal of arrogance during his interview with the Commander in charge, was reluctantly accepted into the programme purely on the basis that he believed you’d need to build a machine to defeat a machine.

It is later revealed that Turing was to work for a team, but he wanted to work alone and slowly and reluctantly agreed to it, later developing a bond with his new colleagues. When Turing was refused the funding to back his machine he went to the highest source possible, Winston Churchill, who granted the funding and also placed Turing in complete control of the operation which began to take more and more time to develop.

With threats of closure and dismissal aimed towards him, he and his colleagues had to fight for the right to continue the project as pressured mounted on them to succeed. The machine, now fully built, was struggling to obtain any relevant information until one day when it all became clear to Alan Turing.

Despite his heroics, Turing lived in a time where laws were strict. He also hid a dark secret from a lot of the people he worked with for fear of repercussion. For Alan Turing was a homosexual and had a history that he wished to keep secret, for if the truth came out, then Turing could be in serious trouble.

Director Morten Tyldum has portrayed the chronicle of Turing’s life beautifully choosing to drift the story from present day, to his childhood at school and during the building of the machine. It allows important elements of Turing’s upbringing and personal affairs play to the forefront providing important information about Turing the man as opposed to what he achieved.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the role of Turing superbly with the detailed expressions and renown stutter captured beautifully in a performance deserved of the highest accolades. Cumberbatch ensures the unintentional humour and occasional arrogance are present throughout the role encapsulated into the timid surroundings of Turing as a person. Kiera Knightly plays the role of Joan Clarke, the only woman to apply for and succeed in being part of Turing’s new team. She shares a special bond with Turing and even goes to the length of agreeing to marry him in order to ensure she could continue working with him. Knightley’s performance is well polished and stable showing signs of strengths throughout the story in a performance born of experience and dedication to her art. Matthew Goode plays the role of Hugh Alexander, a fellow code breaker who doesn’t see eye to eye with Turing at first, but plays a relevant role in the success. Goode withheld the performance of the good-looking, intelligent Alexander with such ease allowing the talent of his work to glow. Other support was strong with the legendary Charles Dance playing the role of Commander Denniston and Mark Strong playing the head of MI6, Stewart Menzies.

The factual elements of Turing’s story and subsequent success are fascinating. The achievements alone that one man could do simply with his mind, but the fact he could take little credit for what he had done is admirable. Despite breaking the enigma code, the job they were doing still had to remain a secret for if the Germans found out it would mean years of work wasted.

You may already be aware of Turing’s achievements and there maybe more you will learn from watching this movie and with the combination of a well told story and strong performances it will be more than just the truth behind the story that will impress.

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Review: Selma (2014)

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In 1963 Black activist Martin Luther King delivered one of the world’s most famous speeches as he addressed the audience at the March on Washington. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions towards combating racial inequality through nonviolence. It was also in this year that he helped to organise the infamous Selma to Montgomery marches, a message to the country, to the world even, that Black people should be allowed the right to vote in American. It is this turbulent time during King’s life which has been depicted in this movie directed by Ava DuVernay.

1960’s America was a totally different world to the one we all live in today. Black Americans were beaten, abused and bullied purely for the colour of their skin. One man decided to fight the law, to confront the powers that be and fight for the right that his people are treated the same as any other American.

Despite the “I Had a Dream” speech being one of Martin Luther King’s most memorable moments, this movie is a celebration of his life and for everything he worked for. The depiction of brutality experienced by his brothers and sisters were one of pure devastation and the fact that they were true events only add to the power behind the story and the sadness that went along with it. There is also the feeling of admiration and pride for a man who fought all the way, despite having his own personal battles to contend with.

British actor David Oyelowo was handed the task of portraying one of America’s most iconic Black people and the task to fulfill the ambition, determination and purpose of King’s character was a hard one to perform. But, for the little known London born actor, it is possibly the performance of his career and one that will no doubt propel him to the cataclysmic heights of one of Hollywood’s true greats. His calm demeanor, movements and voice are captured to perfection in a truly spell binding performance that would make the man himself proud.

Oyelowo had extremely experienced support with bold and meaningful performances from Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White, Tim Roth as Governor George Wallace, Common as James Bevel, Stephan James as John Lewis, Oprah Winfrey in a small, but perfected role as Annie Lee Cooper, but credit must also go to Carmen Ejogo who played the tumultuous role as Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta.

DuVernay’s vision of Martin Luther King’s famous march is brutal in aggression, but also brutally honest in the depiction. The viewing can be uncomfortable at times in terms of the graphic nature of the story, but the cinematography has been expertly executed with moodful settings, ambient lighting and interspersed with actual footage allowing us the memory of the truth behind the story.

Writer Paul Webb has deployed a script heavily laden with dialogue and political history, but his intelligence of the story and segregation of scenes are beautifully portrayed upon a tainted backdrop.

Selma is up for two awards at this year’s Oscars for Best Picture and Original Song, but surprisingly no nomination for David Oyelowo for Best Actor. I know the competition is strong this year, but his performance was worthy of nomination.

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Review: Whiplash (2014)

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Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist

A drum beat. It starts slowly and then it begins to gather pace. A corridor, void of life with the exception of the sound of drumming. The lone figure of Andrew Neimann is sat at his drum kit and is playing it well. This is the heart of the movie. However good it may sound to someone, it might not be good enough and it takes perseverance and commitment to become better. To become the greatest, even.

For Andrew that is his dream. To be one of the greatest drummers ever and he will stop at nothing to get to the top. During a solo practise one evening prolific music teacher, Terence Fletcher, enters the room to listen to him. What passes next is a difficult conversation between the two where Neimann struggles to understand what Fletcher requires of him. When he stops playing, Fletcher asks him why. So, he continues playing. Fletcher stops him again and says that he didn’t ask him to start; he simply asked him why he stopped. When it is evident that Neimann hasn’t grasped Fletcher’s purpose, he leaves and Andrew is left to play by himself again.

It is not the last that Andrew sees of Fletcher as he is drafted in as support at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music which is run by Fletcher, despite the recent incident. To Neimann it is a step in the right direction, but it’s the unorthodox way that Fletcher has of motivating his students to get the best out of them, occasionally bordering on violent, when he realises that he has a difficult journey to get to his full potential.

Fletcher makes it obvious to Neimann that he doesn’t feel he is good enough and pushes him to breaking point like he does to all his students. During one rehearsal he complains that a member of the group is out of tune and offers them the chance to confess. When nobody does own up he targets one person and asks him whether or not he thought he was in tune. When the student, who is terrified of Fletcher, admits he didn’t think he was in tune he becomes the next victim of one of Fletcher’s many violent outbursts and is exited from the room not before being reduced to tears in the process. Fletcher later admits that he was actually in tune, but the fact he thought he wasn’t is worse than actually being out of tune.

It is the method of his ways that Neimann struggles to overcome, but his determination is never lost and if anything it spurs him on to get better. He becomes isolated, focussing all his attention to doing what he loves and it takes blood (literally), sweat and tears to get there as he pushes himself further than he has ever done in his life to ultimately discover it’s still not good enough for Fletcher.

Tempers become fraught between the two, but on occasions Neimann witnesses the lighter side to Fletcher’s character which doesn’t appear often. With hands bandaged, cut and bruised, Neimann continues to push himself in order to earn the position of the drummer in the band, but the barrier between himself and Fletcher just gets higher and higher as the acceptance begins to sink in that he might not be able to make it any further than is physically and mentally possible.

Quite simply put – this movie is absolutely outstanding. It is one of the best I have ever had the privilege to see. The encapsulating performances, combined with a strong, tense story bring real heart and grit to the movie. There is something for everyone to take away from the experience, to learn from it, to gain from it, to push yourself to be better. Self taught drummer, Miles Teller, plays the role of Andrew Neimann with a graceful, sincerity. The maturity of the performance over the course of the movie has been captured wonderfully with the emphasis on the isolation of his character as he becomes lost in his own fortitude, striving to become the best and pushing those around him away. J.K. Simmonds, though, produces perhaps one of the best on-screen performances in modern cinema to date. The intimidation and uncertainty behind the character have been personified into a role that is not only worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but of the award itself. The intelligence that exudes from Fletcher bursts onto the screen during every scene; the passion and anger have been captured to absolute perfection. His intensity and fire not only invoke fear into the other characters, but to you as an viewer. He is truly unbelievable.

Praise should also be deservedly awarded to writer/director Damien Chazelle, who used is knowledge of the intensity of playing in a jazz group to bring life to the script which initially started life as an 18 page short film and was discovered on website Black List, a site which includes the top screenplays for motion pictures yet to be produced. Chazelle portrays his wealth of experience to ensure that each segment of each performance were nailed with the right feel of tension and pace leading us through the chicanes of Neimann’s battle to become the best with the backdrop of his hard, fast drumming adding a deeply powerful moving soundtrack to accompany the emotions of the characters.

The heart of the movie is the battle between these two characters and their determination to, not only better themselves, but to better each other which is rounded off to a phenomenal end scene leaving you unable to remove your eyes from the screen. The music is sensational and for lovers of jazz it will just add to the enjoyment of the movie. Even if jazz music isn’t an interest to you, the appreciation of the hard work and difficulty that a drummer has to overcome has to be respected.

With the Oscars coming up next month, there is a lot of buzz behind Birdman walking away with the Best Picture, but in my opinion, Whiplash is better purely for the passion and strength of the performances and the intensity of the story which will blow you away.

 

This HAS to be seen.

 

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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric

Inspired by a fictional book, The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story an author’s chance meeting with the owner of the hotel once resplendent with life and habitants now left cold and desolate with the same few guests who stay at the same time every year. The hotel is based in the fictional village of Zubrowka and is attended by a young author who meets a man that owns the hotel and who stays there once a year in a small, cramped room in the servant’s quarters, despite having the choice of the biggest and best rooms available. Fascinated by this man, the author (played by Jude Law) learns to discover how he acquired the hotel which cost him nothing at all.

In 1932, a boy by the name of Zero begins work at the Grand Budapest Hotel as a Lobby Boy where he meets perhaps the most eccentric and diverse concierge, the world renown, Mr. Gustave. Gustave is a concierge that everybody knows, not just at the Grand Budapest, but at hotels all over the world. His popularity among those who stay at the hotel is astonishing, particularly with members of the opposite sex. One of those is an elderly woman called Madame D. who leaves the Grand Budapest for the last time due to illness, much to the dismay of Gustave. During this time Gustave meets Zero and soon discovers the potential in him purely down to his enthusiasm to work at the hotel above anything else.

News soon filters back to Gustave that Madame D has passed away, so he and Zero embark on a journey to the funeral to pay their last respects. The War has begun and due to Gustave’s popularity, he and Zero make it through checkpoints with relative ease as it transpires that Gustave looked after one of the Commanders when he was a child and is treated with great appreciation. It is during the service that the last will and testament of Madame D’s fortune is read out and a priceless painting is left for Gustave, much to the disgruntlement of her nephew, Dmitri played by Adrien Brody. Dmitri is determined to claim the painting for his own and will stop at nothing to ensure that is the case.

It is later discovered that Madame D didn’t die of natural causes and was murdered with the finger of blame pointed towards Gustave. Any friendship or admiration from the Commander is soon forgotten and Gustave gets captured and put in jail awaiting trial. In jail Gustave hatches a plan to escape with a group of cell mates and finds himself on the run. With the aid of his new friend and confident, Zero, Gustave must uncover the truth to clear his name and get back to the Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel reads like a who’s who of Hollywood acting credentials. A number of the actors who appear in the movie are actors that have previously worked with Director Wes Anderson and there are numerous other stars adding their names to the billing. Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay has produced a work of art. The appeal of the movie is in the look and feel and he has captured this wonderfully in a portrayal of beautiful colours mixed with wonderful performances to make the whole experience magical. The story was an inspiration from Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig with the character of Gustave based on Zweig.

The performances associated with this wonderfully depicted tale are what gives it the life and realism. Ralph Fiennes has been criminally overlooked for an Oscar nomination for his role as Gustave as he is truly excellent. His performance is a blend of solemn, dramatic cascading into occasional hilarious comedy and it is superb allowing Fiennes to encompass a variety of emotions and characteristics to his performance and create one of the finest, funniest onscreen characters in cinema. Little know Tony Revloroi plays the role of the Lobby Boy, Zero, who looks up to Gustave as their friendship blossoms. He plays the role of the timid Zero with a great level of professionalism unfazed by the act required of him and not in awe of the ensemble around him. Then, it is a case of spot the celebrity with cameos from Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson and Harvey Keitel to name but a few all adding weight to this beautiful story.

The blend of the finest acting talents on offer with a superbly written screenplay by Wes Anderson himself could suggest there may be a surprise on the cards for the Awards ceremony this February with The Grand Budapest Hotel possibly being a dark horse on the final furlong of the race.

And it would deserve it too.

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Feature: Keeping Up With The Culkins

It’s hard to imagine that it has been almost 25 years since a ten year old boy appeared on our screens in a scene whereby he applies his father’s aftershave to his face and then reacts to the sting caused by the fluid on his skin. It was a role that would change Macaulay Culkin’s career and indeed his life, but not generally for the better.

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Home Alone was a turning point for the young actor.  It made over $285,000,000 in the US alone and spawned a sequel in 1992 which didn’t do as well as its predecessor, but still earned big.  Culkin himself went on to become a huge child star in Hollywood and unfortunately for him his success also caused his downfall.

Macaulay Culkin is one of many siblings born to Christopher Culkin and Patricia Brentrup. He is the third oldest of seven children all of whom share the showbiz gene in varying degrees of quantity. Macaulay, or “Mac” as he is sometimes known, got his first big film role alongside John Candy in the 1989 movie Uncle Buck, but it is his debut lead role in Home Alone that he is best known.  He was typecast in the child star void thereafter appearing in a series of family movies such as My Girl (1991), Getting Even with Dad (1994), The Pagemaster (1994) and Richie Rich (1994) before it all started to turn sour.

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In 1995 Macaulay’s parents, who were never married, split and a lengthy legal battle began over the custody of the children and rights to Macaulay’s fortune. It was during this period of time that he burnt out and vowed to quit acting until his parents settled the court case. The case itself wasn’t resolved until 1997. Culkin’s friendship with pop star Michael Jackson also came into question when allegations were made against Jackson for improper behaviour with children. It is suggested that Culkin’s relationship with Jackson was purely a friendship and nothing else. Culkin appeared in the video for Michael Jackson’s 1991 hit “Black or White”. Macaulay married fellow actress Rachel Milner in 1998, but the marriage only last two years as Milner wanted to start a family, but Culkin was more interested in getting back into acting.

The move back into acting was to be a difficult one for Culkin. Tarred with the “Child Star” brush he found roles difficult to come by and despite a stint on the West End in 2001 his next big role was the “comeback” role in 2003’s Party Monster in which he portrayed a cross dressing club promoter. It was the serious, dark role that had been hoped would reignite his career, but with the movie only receiving average reviews the comeback road had just stumbled across a detour. During the filming of Party Monster Culkin started a relationship with the then pretty much unknown Mila Kunis. It was a relationship which lasted for six years and unlike Kunis’ career, didn’t blossom much after that.

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In 2004 Culkin was arrested for drug possession. He was jailed briefly before paying $4,000 for bail.  In court he pleaded not guilty, but quickly reverted his plea to guilty. He received three one year suspended prison terms and had to pay a further $540 in fees. The continued downward spiral of not only his career, but his life resulted in drugs and alcohol with many fearing for his life as he kept on the road to self destruction. It was ex-girlfriend Mila Kunis that attempted to get him into rehab, an act which ultimately failed.

Since Party Monster Culkin has made the odd appearance in episodes of Television Series and straight to DVD movies. More recently he recreated the character of Kevin McAllister for popular comedy series “Robot Chicken”, but aside from that he has never rekindled that scene stealing performance that he did as a ten year old. But, with a rumoured fortune of $17 million in the bank, he can probably afford not to act if he chooses.

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To this day Macaulay Culkin still wears a mysterious cover. Last year he was seen on YouTube filming himself in a room eating pizza in a bizarre promotion for cover band The Pizza Underground (covering songs from The Velvet Underground, but changing the lyrics to pizza references).

Towards the end of 2014 there were rumours that Macaulay Culkin had died, but the reports later transpired into being a hoax with the former star taking to social network Twitter to post a series of images, one of which replicating 80’s movie, “Weekend at Bernie’s” with band mates from The Pizza Underground. For now, music appears to be his passion and his attention is focused solely on that, but many sense there could be more twists in “Mac’s” life.

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Macaulay Culkin is one of seven children. His sibling’s lives have taken different turns…

 

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Shane Culkin (38)

Shane is the eldest of the Culkin children and his flirtation with the arts was brief only scoring an appearance in American TV’s “Great Performances” a show dedicated solely to the Performing Arts. The idea of the show was to display performances in acting, staging sections of plays, but over the years the focus has been more on music.

Shane no longer performs acting. There is not a great deal that is known about his whereabouts to this day opting for a quieter life out of the spotlight.

 

Dakota Culkin (1978 – 2008, 30)

Dakota Culkin wanted a career in Hollywood, but to work behind the camera as opposed to being in front of it. Quite a humble, warming character, Dakota had worked as an Art Production Assistant on an independent project called “Lost Soul”. Tragedy struck in December 2008 as Dakota was killed as she stepped out into the road in LA and was hit by a car. She was rushed to hospital, but had received major head injuries which she sadly died from the next day. The Culkin’s refrained from publicly grieving over the death of their sister, instead opting for a more private bereavement.

 

Kieran Culkin       Kieran Culkin                                                

Kieran Culkin was the first of the Culkin siblings to show real potential following Macaulay’s success in front of the camera. His first role came as the cute cousin of Macaulay Culkin’s character in Home Alone and its sequel, Home Alone 2.

One of his first major roles was in the 1998 movie, “The Mighty” in which he played Kevin Dillon the young boy suffering from Morquio syndrome who befriends an oversized, dyslexic who suffers at the hands of bullies. It was a performance which earned Kieran his first nomination for Young Artist award for best performance in a feature film.

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He followed that up with the role of Buster in “The Cider House Rules” (1999) in which he received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance. The roles then began to dry up and his appearance were minor roles until 2002 when he played the lead role in “Igby Goes Down”, a comedy drama centered around a teenager trying to break free of his wealthy and overbearing mother. It was a role that really displayed his capability as an actor receiving two nominations for best actor in the process. In 2010 he starred alongside fellow actor, Michael Cera in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

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Kieran’s acting career then diverted to the stage in various guises which saw him perform at the Sidney Opera House in 2012 in a production of “This is Our Youth”. More recently Kieran can be seen in a segment of the 2013 movie “Movie 43” and is to appear in an episode of the second season of “Fargo” due to screen later this year.

Unlike his brother, Kieran has managed to steer clear from the public eye focusing his attention more on his career. Kieran was quoted once as saying “I certainly had a better, less hectic life than Mac. He took all the pressure at home and on movie sets. My dad basically left me alone because I wasn’t making enough money to warrant his scrutiny.” A bitter, scathing attack on his father, but it was Mac’s rise to fame that favoured Kieran who was able to allow his acting ability to shine.

 

Quinn Culkin

Quinn Culkin is the second daughter of the Culkin family. She, much like her older brother Shane, have not had the levels of fame that brothers Mac, Kieran and Rory have had. She scored a role in the 1993 movie “The Good Son” playing the sister of Macaulay’s character, Henry. Prior to that she had a voiceover role in the 1991 animated TV series “Wish Kid”. It was to be a very brief stint in acting for Quinn and she no longer acts.

 

Christian Culkin

Christian Culkin’s only screen credit appearance was in the 1994 movie “It Runs in the Family” alongside brother Kieran. It was to be another brief stint in acting for the young Culkin member.

 

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One of Rory’s first even screen appearances was as a younger Richie in the 1994 movie “Richie Rich” in which older brother Macaulay played the title role. He also played a younger version of Igby in the 2002 movie “Igby Goes Down”, but it was another breakthrough performance later that year in which the world would wake up and take notice.

IMG_0496In 2002 Rory starred alongside Hollywood great Mel Gibson in the    paranormal thriller “Signs” as Morgan Hess. It was a movie that grossed $407,900,000 worldwide and in which he produced such a naturally graceful performance. His roles since then have been relatively low-key, choosing to avoid mainstream cinema and opting for more indie roles until he was cast as Charlie Walker in horror franchise, “Scream 4”. His last role to date was a move back to his preferred roots in the 2014 movie “Gabriel” in which he takes the title role as a young man with mental issues trying to get over the suicide of his father. It is a performance some are saying is his best. Rory’s life won’t be getting much quieter though with plenty more work still in the pipeline.

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Much like his brother Kieran, Rory has ensured he kept out of the limelight. Whether that was through choice having witnessed what Macaulay experienced or that the attention has been taken away from them, it has probably worked in their favour. For Rory it is about the art and not about the success or fame and he has never been alone on the journey with his brothers Kieran and Macaulay both offering him advice when he needs it.

 

So, with Kieran and Rory both representing the Culkin name in the world of film will there ever be the big comeback that Macaulay had hoped for or will he continue on the new path that has been set before him?

 

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Review: Boyhood (2014)

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Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

12 years ago a project began. That project was a movie depicting the life and surroundings told through the eyes of a young boy as he grows and reaches adulthood. Twelve years later this project, which is the brainchild of writer/director, Richard Linklater, is released.

Linklater wanted to portray the growth of a child, but avoiding the use of multiple actors for the role, instead opting to use the same boy over a period of 12 years. Infact, all of the main cast worked on the film for the same period of time. It is dedication for his efforts that the movie is up for Best Picture at the Oscars as well as Best Director and Supporting Actor/Actress.

Mason (Coltrane) is a five year old boy living with his older sister Samantha (Richard Linklater’s daughter – Lorelei Linklater) and their mother (Patricia Arquette). The offspring are a result of pregnancy at a young age, and as such Mason’s parents no longer live with each other and barely get along. He hasn’t seen his father for a while and his mother struggles with a series of relationships while she has to juggle their lives and hers at the same time to ensure they have the best outcome possible. But the rivalry between older sister Sam makes life difficult at times. One evening Mason is witness to an argument between his mother and one of her boyfriends and such is the perplexed perception of life that Mason sees and accepts with as he has no basis for comparison.

Their father reappears in the story played with wonderful transition by Oscar nominated, Ethan Hawke. He is rather coy about his own life and work instead directing the majority of the conversations he has purely on the children. He is a good father, despite the absence and the children adore him. So much so they pray that he can fix things up with their mum and they can be a family again. Through a child’s eyes there is no reason why they can’t be, but through an adult’s eyes the reasons are complicated which is born with experience of age and love.

Each “scene” of the story depicts another stage in Mason’s life and as the story progresses, so does the ages of the characters. Their mum decides they should move so she can start a college course and make something of their lives and that is one of the main themes throughout the story.  It’s the settlement and upheaval of his young life as he tries to perceive their movements and understand not only his life, but the lives as others round him. His relationship with his father improves during the course of the story as he finds himself moving once again when his mum remarries, but yet more cracks in a relationship his mum has with their step-father become evident.

The beauty of Linklater’s story is the natural realism that flows as the story progresses. Rather than over complicate the storyline, he opts to portray an ordinary set of lives with the usual situations and conversations that take place. Each segment of Mason’s life is wonderfully crafted to depict music and technology of that era and the natural transition of relationships and behaviour as the characters age. Ethan Hawke plays the role of the father superbly. To begin with his character is an occasionally over-the-top, larger than life guy who is slightly rebellious and a dreamer, but he matures through the tale as his life changes. Patricia Arquette plays their mum who joins Hawke in an Oscar nomination. She plays the role of a single mother dead set on providing the best possible life for her children with perfection, tackling the obstacles constantly in her way during the course of her life. The maturity of her life and the modifications she makes as setback follows setback are clearly documented in such an illustrious performance.

Credit has to be given to the young siblings. At such a very young age they have both had a huge task set for them in not only portraying a role over such a period of time, but ensuring that the standard of acting is kept up throughout. The rivalry between them is evident from the outset and subtly improves during the course of the movie as would any normal relationship between brother and sister which is executed with natural realism and perfection.

At 165 minutes the movie is long, but you have to appreciate how much work and effort has gone into it and you can forgive Linklater for producing such an extensive story. The time lapse does hinder the movie at times with the pace slow in places and sometimes irrelevant scenes played out for too long which loses the momentum of the movie. That being said, I have nothing but admiration for his desire, commitment and dedication to the project and for producing a piece of history in modern cinema and that is worthy of an award alone.

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